Reading occasional Amazon comments on Harald, my first novel, I am struck by the tendency of readers familiar with my nonfiction to assume that the novel is intended as an argument in favor of libertarianism. It is not.
I portray three different societies in the novel, all based on historical models. One, the Vales, where my protagonist comes from, is loosely modeled on saga period Iceland. Another, the kingdom of Kaerlia, where most of the book happens, is loosely modeled on early Norman England. The third, the Empire, the antagonist against which the first two are allied, is a mix of Byzantine, Roman, and Abbasid institutions—the relation between the Emperor and his sons was inspired by the relation between Haroun al Rashid and his, although my emperor is considerably more competent than al Rashid was.
Each system has strengths and weaknesses. The most obvious weakness of the Vales is that it has neither a professional army supported by taxation nor a feudal levy. Harald, my protagonist, faces the continuing problem of raising an army of volunteers. The historical models I was thinking of were the Norse armies that ravaged England in the period leading up to Alfred the Great. As best I can tell, they were not national armies but entrepreneurial projects, warriors following a leader with a good reputation in search of land and loot.
One result is that Harald's military strategy largely consists of logistic warfare, of maneuvering the opposing army into a position where it must either surrender or die of hunger or thirst. He cannot afford to fight battles where a significant number of his troops get killed because if he does, nobody will show up next time. He is fighting a defensive war, so cannot offer land to his troops, but does offer loot, captured from the armies he is fighting or paid as ransom for legionaries forced to surrender. Also excitement, glory, and training in useful skills—when his people are not fighting the Empire, some of them are serving it as caravan guards and the like. And it helps that, in addition to his own troops, he has under his command the feudal army of his ally the king of Kaerlia.
The Empire has, from a military standpoint, several significant advantages. It has a highly trained professional army, the legions, which Harald describes as the best infantry in the world. It has the sort of culture that keeps written records and uses them. Harald has been fighting the Empire for more than twenty years and his current opponents have read detailed accounts of his past battles, which means that he gets to use any particular trick only once. To balance that, it has a culture with less room for originality and initiative than his. Artos, the best of the Imperial commanders, is technically as good a general as Harald. But he is less original, less unconventional, because an imperial officer with Harald's approach to solving problems would have been fired, possibly hanged, long before he reached high rank. The only place for that approach in the imperial system is at the very top, in the contest for the throne, and the one example we see of it is due not to Artos but to his employer, the younger and abler son of the Emperor.
As I try to make clear, the reason the Empire has not succeeded in conquering the Vales and the Kingdom is not that its system is inferior to theirs. It is that Harald, his ally the king of Kaerlia (who dies just before the novel starts), and his other ally the Lady Commander of the Order, happen to be extraordinarily talented people and close friends—two very able military commanders and a sovereign sufficiently wise to not only get and retain allies, but give his allies command over the combined army on the grounds that they are better at the job than he is.
I have written and published two novels. Both reflect my political interests and my professional interests as an economist. Neither of them is intended as an argument in favor of libertarianism.
And for those interested:
Harald on Amazon
Harald web page
Harald as free podcasts